The end justifies the means: The bane of Nigerian politics by Emeka Onokwu-Isitua (Opinion)

The end justifies the means: The bane of Nigerian politics by Emeka Onokwu-Isitua (Opinion)

Editor's note: In this piece, Emeka Onokwu-Isitua, analyses the Nigerian politics and efforts made by its people to ensure steady development and growth.

He however, opines that political reasoning requires the integration of technical and moral consideration of “means” and “ends”.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of

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For decades the spoken and tacit aspiration of all Nigerians has been that Nigeria evolve into a viable and flourishing democratic state.

But ever since gaining political independence, the Nigerian state has been unable to reach this goal and this is partly due to some pernicious practices that have characterized its politics. One of such is the conventional practice of the political maxim of “the End Justifies the Means”.

This pernicious political maxim has become a common principle of political action in Nigeria ever since the first military coup to counter coups, military rule, truncated democratic experiments and the far from perfect democratic dispensations of the past nineteen years.

The “End Justifies the Means” as a principle of political practice is probably as old as politics itself. But as an idea, it was made popular or romanticized by the Italian political theorist and politician Niccolo Machiavelli.

The maxim signifies that a “Good End” (goal or purpose) “Justifies” (morally vindicates, approves or excuses) whatever “Means” (words, actions, resources, instruments) moral or immoral are employed to attain it, that is, the End.

Machiavelli premised this principle on the assumption that man (human nature) is inherently wicked, and that society, by extension, is essentially corrupt and that some minimal order can be rescued from chaos by the application of means that are strictly “useful” whether moral or immoral.

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This political maxim is morally faulty for the simple reason that it does not correspond with reality.

To begin with, human nature is not wholly evil if this were so humans will cease to exist. Evil is the absence of a good that should be there as the physical evil of blindness is the absence of the good of sight that should a being there in a being naturally endowed with sight.

Man is essentially good but his goodness is subject to an inherent moral defect the origin of which is mysterious from the standpoint of pure human reason. Religions have provided accounts on the origin of evil but that is not the subject of this article.

While this native moral defect has proved humanly impossible to rectify, the potency of its effects can be subjected to degrees of constraints or exacerbation through the practice of moral virtues or vices and religion in the light that it upholds moral values.

Secondly, the political maxim of the “End Justifies the Means” represents a false opposition between the technical and moral rationalization of politics. Technical reasoning involves the application of “useful” means to advantageous ends.

Considered in itself, the value of the “means” and “ends” is measured not by moral goodness but by the efficacy and expediency of the means in attaining an advantageous end, an end considered conditional. On the other hand, moral reasoning involves the application of “moral” means to moral ends. Considered in itself, the value of the “means” is measured by its harmlessness and goodness and therefore befits the unconditional moral end of human goodness, dignity and happiness.

The maxim of the “End Justifies the Means” is immoral because it subordinates morality to expediency and is prepared to dispose of the former in any perceived tension between both. On the contrary, wise political reasoning requires the integration of technical and moral consideration of “means” and “ends”.

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But in any tension between morality and expediency the latter is subordinate to the former. This based on the conviction that since the ultimate end of man is an unconditional moral end, not all means are technically permissible because they are not morally permissible.

Nigerian rulers and politicians have often practiced the maxim of the End Justifies the Means and have defended their actions on the premise that Nigerian politics is turbulent and polluted with corruption and can only be remedied by means that may not be morally right because the perceived enemies of the state are implacable and don’t play fair.

Moreover, it is argued that immorally expedient means are temporal, to be set aside once the obstacles to justice have been removed. The aforementioned argument is grossly mistaken. First of all, immoral means only multiply obstacles rather than eliminate them. It is a fallacy to think that a moral end can be reached by means that are immoral. Secondly, the argument for pure expediency ignores the fact that immoral actions are addictive, that is, they tend to crystalize to moral vice. This fact is confirmed by the trajectory of Nigerian politics since political independence and currently manifest in our party politics and aberrant democratic elections.

The maxim of the “End justifies the Means” is so corrosive to moral energy of the society that it has turned politics into a vicious circle where power and manipulation have become ends in themselves and the multicultural elements of the society are pitted against each other for personal and sectional interests to the neglect of the common good. Religious and ethnic violence, assassinations and banditry are symptoms of the cumulative moral degradation of the Nigerian society.

Nigerian politicians need to re-cultivate and habituate themselves to making prudential deliberations and judgements in their choice of “means” and “ends” as embodied in the political speeches, actions and policies they make and execute.

According to the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, prudence is the capacity to deliberate well about what is good and expedient regarding the needs of the society.

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It involves the wise appreciation of the moral and technical value of means and ends and their correspondence with the ultimate moral end of the political society which consists in the elevation of the dignity of the human person and the common good.

Prudence as a virtue of the mind embodies such practical skills as foresight, circumspection, promptitude, alertness, an awareness of history, moderation and tact by which the wise leader reconciles and directs the various human and cultural concerns and needs toward the common good.

Prudence which regards and appropriates other moral values such as justice is the means to restoring nobility to Nigerian politics.

Finally, democracy is the product of a choice. The United States adopted democracy because its founding Fathers jettisoned the Machiavellian/Hobbesian politics of Western Europe.

The Western European democracy did the same by finding a convergence between the “just” and the “expedient” to end their incessant internal conflict.

The Nigerian aspiration towards a viable democratic system of governance can only be a reality until its politics represents choices that are not inimical to the democratic ethos. ( -> Same great journalism, upgraded for better service!

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